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It's already been a miserable December for the Minnesota Wild, and things might not improve with consecutive matchups against a pair of the NHL's elite teams.
The Wild look to halt an eight-game losing streak against the Pacific Division-leading San Jose Sharks on Wednesday night at the Xcel Energy Center.
Minnesota (17-16-2) was within one point of the lead in the Northwest Division at the end of November, but a 3-9-1 slide this month has dropped it into last place.
The Wild have dropped two in a row overall, and were handed their sixth straight road loss in December on Monday night, 2-1 at Calgary despite 27 saves from backup Josh Harding.
"(Calgary's) two goals - that first one goes off a skate and the second goal, it bounces four times and right on his stick for a breakaway," said center Eric Belanger, who has a goal and four assists over his last six games. "It's frustrating as we battled hard (Monday night) and we deserved a better ending."
Finding success won't be easy this week, considering a matchup against defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit awaits the Wild on Saturday. First, however, they must contend with a San Jose team that has been the class of the league through the season's first three months.
Minnesota lost 3-1 at San Jose on Nov. 4, and has been outscored 23-11 while falling to 0-6-2 in the last eight meetings - a span in which Sharks goaltender Evgeni Nabokov boasts a 1.35 goals-against average.
San Jose (28-4-4) has also won five straight and seven of the last eight matchups at the Xcel Energy Center.
The Sharks have just one regulation loss in their last 20 games, going 15-1-4 since a 4-2 defeat at Phoenix on Nov. 9.
After a 3-2 shootout loss at St. Louis on Saturday, San Jose rebounded with a 3-1 road win over Dallas on Monday. Ryane Clowe had a goal and an assist, helping Nabokov to his 20th victory of the season behind a 28-save effort.
Nabokov has allowed five goals on 124 shots in winning three of his last four starts. He made 23 saves against the Wild earlier this season, and has compiled a 1.22 GAA in winning four straight in Minnesota, but knows the Sharks can't take any opponent for granted.
"We're facing desperate teams that are hungry for points," Nabokov said. "We have to match it every night. It'll be harder and harder from now on."
San Jose ranks among the league leaders with 3.42 goals per game, and will face a Minnesota defense that has held opponents to a Western Conference-low 82 goals.
Niklas Backstrom is likely to return to the net for the Wild, though he's 0-4-2 with a 3.10 GAA in his last six starts against the Sharks.
The status of Wild forward Marian Gaborik, however, is expected to be made prior to the game. He has missed the last two contests after playing four straight following a 27-game absence due to a lower-body injury.
San Jose right wing Devin Setoguchi is expected back after missing Monday's game following the death of his grandmother. The second-year forward has 17 goals and is third on the team with 36 points.
SHARKS RADIO COVERAGE BEGINS AT 2:30 TODAY
Following an important victory against Pacific Division rival Dallas on Monday, the Sharks finish out the year 2008 in St. Paul, Minnesota this afternoon against the Wild.
The game is a “radio only” broadcast, with coverage beginning on most affiliate stations at 2:30 p.m. with the popular “Sharks Warm-Up” pre-game show at Xcel Energy Center. For this game, flagship station 98.5 KFOX begins its coverage at 3:00 p.m. with “Coach’s Chalkboard with Todd McLellan,” followed by live play by play coverage of the Sharks-Wild game.
Today’s game is scheduled to air on the following San Jose Sharks Radio Network stations:
Along with its regular Bay Area coverage, 98.5 KFOX can also be found in much of the Bay Area on Comcast Digital Music Channel 975.
Sharks Radio is also available on various Internet streaming sites, including www.sjsharks.com, www.nhl.com, www.kfox.com, www.khtk.com, www.1340komy.com, and others. XM Satellite Radio will provide coverage featuring the Minnesota Wild radio team.